The letter linked above is the response of many of the Democratic members of the committee currently considering the Murphy Bill. If you have not yet read it you should.
Their response is clear and concise. It is also very compelling. Their comments are very similar to those raised by many advocates. The concerns they raise are substantive and should be addressed before any action is taken forward on the Murphy Bill. It is time to actually solve a problem and not propose a solution that, in the end, only makes things worse.
They start the letter of by thanking the chairman for “bipartisan discussions.” It is important to note Chairman Upton is far from sold on the Murphy Bill. He has reached out to Rep Pallone about his hope to find a bi-partisan bill that listens to the concerns and ideas from both sides of the aisle. He has talked about his hope for a negotiated bill and has said that Rep Murphy would not be the lead negotiator for the Republicans in that process. Despite all the press clippings Rep Murphy has a huge credibility problem where he needs credibility most….on the committee.
They start off by saying that the civil rights of mental health patients are essential. They point out that if mental health treatment is to have parity with the treatment of physical illness that means that both groups must have the same rights. They point out that, “Regressive reforms to the mental health system that diminish patient rights and create a less welcoming treatment environment will result in worse quality of care.” Rights are not an impediment to effective treatment but essential to it.
They object to the proposed HIPAA changes. They point out “it ain’t broke and don’t fix it.” HIPAA already gives doctors the right to give information to family members under some circumstances when they feel it is in the patients best interest. Perhaps the law is poorly understood but that doesn’t mean you need a new law with looser restrictions on privacy rights. They also point out that Murphy would create the first diagnosis specific exception to HIPAA and that is discrimination. The letter goes into great detail on these points and I refer you there. It says it much better than I could ever.
The next section of the letter deals with Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). They object first of all to any state being punished for not having AOT rather that is by having funds cut or not being eligible for funding that those states with AOT are eligible for. It simply isn’t right and would dismantle the states right about how best to meet the needs in their states given the resources available to them and the challenges they face.
They note their concern with the basic assumptions of AOT. They note the more lax standards for commitment in most states and write: “The involvement of the court system and law enforcement in treatment of individuals who pose no imminent threat of harm to themselves or others is also concerning….The use of the court system and law enforcement to force individuals into care is a dramatic departure from how individuals….obtain health care services in this country.”
They voice other concerns also. For example AOT affects minority communities desperately. They basically conclude by saying the risks of AOT are too great. The possibility for harm is real and that the end result will not be more people seeking treatment but more people not risking involvement and getting the help they need.
They also oppose features of the bill that would financially incentive states to relax their standards for inpatient commitment. Again they point out the risks of such a policy and potential for abuse in lax standards.
They next talk about the provisions of the bill that would attack and weaken the Protection and Advocacy system. This section of the letter speaks eloquently for itself and again I refer you to the letter. It strongly makes the point that making it illegal for a program grounded in the federal statute to do so to help individuals to fight for their rights and protect them from discrimination is a horrible idea and not a reform at all.
In their final point they address their disapproval of the effort to destroy SAMHSA. They note the function it serves and notes several ways that the Murphy Bill would attack that function and ultimately hurt the people it serves. Their advice is simple. It is bad governmental policy to destroy an agency simply because you don’t like the way it is run. They ask that we not throw the baby out with the bath water and find ways to strengthen SAMHSA and improve its functioning rather than go to the trouble and expense to create a similar agency just to call it something different.
The letter is powerful. It is worth reading and sharing.
Please add your voice. Let your congressman know how you feel and let the legislators who signed this letter know how much you appreciate them sharing their voice.